Improve your concentration with these 9 essential techniques
Human brain has muscles. It is a well-known, easily understood metaphor: brain, the control center of our body, needs continuous exercise to successfully complete its missions. And one of its most important missions is to absorb, store and process information – the memorizing capacity and the ability to concentrate. We depend on it in the most varied circumstances, ranging from exams, job interviews and staff meetings to the daily housework or office routine.
We do not necessarily need to be told by psychoanalysts that Mother Nature has not endowed us all with the same concentration ability. That much we know. Instead, we prick up our ears when they tell us what we can do to improve our concentration. Here are 9 techniques we should all use for an enhanced focus.
1. A healthy daily routine
When it comes to daily routine, the most important element that affects our ability to concentrate is, according to experts, the quality of our sleep: the less we sleep at night and the poorer the quality of our sleep, the less able we will be to concentrate the next day.
The second essential element of a proper daily routine is a balanced diet: plenty of fruit and vegetables (which contain loads of antioxidants) and omega 3 (fatty fish, vegetable oils), and as few saturated fats, cooked at high temperature, as possible.
2. Work out, no matter what your age
A Dartmouth University study reveals that 12 minutes of exercise a day can enhance the power of concentration in teenagers. Naturally – our brain needs just as much oxygen as any other organ, and even more when maximum concentration is required.
This applies to all of us, whatever our age. While teenagers have to attend school and complete homework assignments on a daily basis, grown-ups have an endless list of responsibilities to deal with in their social and private life. As for senior citizens, they are faced with a grim challenge: Alzheimer’s disease. Which is why we should not forget that between our muscles and our physical brain there is a strong connection, based on oxygen and endorphins, the hormones of happiness.
What kind of exercise should we do? Anything that suits our preferences and our natural abilities. All sports have a beneficial impact on our brain, memory and power of concentration. Football, for instance, requires a broad focus of attention – the player must watch the ball and, at the same time, stay aware of the position of both his team mates and opponents. On the other hand, fencing develops the ability to maintain a narrow focus on a single object.
If physical exercise plays an essential role in the proper functioning of the brain, exercising our brain cells is as important: Sudoku, crosswords, chess – all mind sports are ideal when it comes to improving our concentration skills.
3. A favorable environment
Concentration difficulties are, quite frequently, due to an inadequate environment, be it a noisy open space at work or a workroom you have improvised in the living room of your house, where, whether you like it or not, the whole family wanders up and down. It is true that not everybody needs peace and quiet to concentrate. Not to mention that we can always use headphones, which create a noise barrier between us and the environment. It is up to each of us to identify what distracts us. I, for one, when listening to music, can concentrate on nothing else but … music. And I know a lot of people who can only study listening to music. And more often than not (unfortunately – in my opinion, not theirs), they do so with the volume turned all the way up.
4. Breathing techniques for stress relief
In yoga, breathing is the cornerstone of the concentration improvement techniques. First of all, it induces a physical state of relaxation which reduces stress. Secondly, it slows down your heart rate and helps regulate your emotions, dismissing dark thoughts. Breathing exercises are a way to break the vicious circle of stress and negative mental representations.
To convince yourself, you can try the following exercise: close your eyes and focus your attention on how your abdomen moves while you breathe – feel your abdomen rise every time you breathe in and descend as you let the air out. By focusing on the here and now (your body and the present moment), you will leave your brain alone. Or you can try a different, less demanding version of the exercise: place your hands on your abdomen and feel how it goes up and down as you inhale/expel the air from your lungs. Focus on its rhythmic movement and clear your mind of all thoughts.
5. Anchoring technique
Anchoring is a NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) technique which involves associating a positive thought or memory with a gesture, and is extremely helpful in counteracting stress.
Consider the following example: before starting a game, many tennis players close their eyes or throw the ball up in the air and catch it with one hand. It is a technique which they use to focus their energy before they start the attack.
6. Positive visualization
A very efficient technique, positive visualization consists in building a positive image about a certain event. Thus we switch on the plus mode, that is we work on our brain which, if “given enough rope”, might give rise to negative thoughts. Stress management automatically involves acting on the mental and emotional dimension, with direct effect on our power of concentration: by visualizing comforting situations, stray thoughts are discarded and, as a result, we can focus strictly on our target.
7. Staying focused
Another method you can use to improve your ability to concentrate is the following technique, meant to help you stay focused on a certain item: choose an object and gaze at it for three minutes. Watch intently its color, shape and brand. Your aim is to get that object to occupy all your mental space. As soon as another thought pushes through your mind, let it settle in, then try and see if you can make it go away.
Write down how long you have managed to stay focused on the selected object without thinking of anything else (15, 20 seconds), then gradually increase the time of constant focus.
Before an important match, all athletes use a routine which helps them perform at their peak: making certain movements, visualizing their inner game, listening to music… Here is a perfect method you can use if you are about to speak in public, for instance, and you are afraid that you will be too nervous to concentrate: before you walk up to the stage, you can go to a quiet room where you can be all by yourself and do some breathing exercises. Then go slowly toward the stage and, on your way there, choose someone in the audience and focus your attention on that person.
9. Anchoring yourself to the present
Concentration involves being fully present. Yoga, sophrology, mindfulness are perfect techniques you can use to anchor yourself to the present.
At the end of the day, we all get to find our own routine, which can help us avoid stray thoughts that bear on our concentration. On a scale from 1 to 9, there are a lot of methods you can choose from and combine. You are the mastermind and ruler of the game. Whatever strategy you may create, whatever tactics you may develop on the field, the final score will be in your favor: you will have managed to build your brain “muscles” and, therefore, improve your ability to concentrate.
Improve your concentration with these 9 essential techniques by Technology for Life is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.